What if You Don’t Like It

A while back I had a conversation with a fellow blogger. We were discussing books and ratings and the blogger, who is also a published author, said something along the lines of:

We shouldn’t say a book isn’t good or give it a bad or low star review because the author worked really hard at writing the book, and those who have never written a book shouldn’t judge.

Here are some things I know:

  1. It is very difficult to write a book.
  2. It is even more difficult to publish a book
  3. No one wants their work criticized

Here are some other things I know:

  1. No one wants to read a bad book
  2. If I am talking about a book I am going to be honest about how I felt about it
  3. My opinion really doesn’t matter in the world of opinions
  4. If you are going to put your work out there, you have to be prepared that someone is not going to like it.

Should we be truthful when reviewing books (or anything else for that matter)?

Should we not give a book a two star review because someone worked hard on it?

How do we feel about reviews, reviewers and criticism in general?


How Many Stars Did This Get?

A while back, I wrote a post and we discussed how important customer generated ratings are before we make a purchase. How much do we really use them?

So, for the past few weeks I’ve tried to take notice of the “why this” before I purchase something. Here’s my very unscientific results.

Beauty products: I do not look at Amazon reviews before I buy beauty products. For some things I buy brands that I have bought before and that I love. That doesn’t mean I am unwilling to try out new things- but when I try out something new, it’s based on a magazine articles such as “Best eye creams for undereye puffiness”. I know that these items are often pushed by reps, and there’s nothing to guarantee how good they are, but my mind totally falls for the “Best of” articles. I’m happy to say that, for the most part, I am satisfied with the results. For example- I tried Curel Extreme Dry Hand Relief and I love it! Not greasy and really makes my snake like hand skin soft.

Books: You know I source my books from many places, but I do admit that sometimes I let the Goodreads star ratings sway me- I am more likely to read something with a greater average. However, I rarely read the actual reviews…too many spoilers. For the most part, I tend to agree with the aggregate, but there are always exceptions. Sometimes I buy a book without knowing anything, just because something about it appeals to me- like “Your Guide to Not Getting Murdered in a Quaint English Village” which I saw, loved, and my daughter got me for Christmas.

Movies: For the most part, I look at Rotten Tomatoes. However there are some movies I will see just because, such as “Marry Me” which I’m seeing this week and “Death on the Nile” which I’m seeing next week. Doesn’t matter the ratings: I’m seeing them. As you know, I will attempt to see every Oscar nominated movie. However, when there is a film festival I don’t look at movie ratings- I either see what fits into my schedule, or old films that I’ve always wanted to see.

Actual Things: This has to be done on a case by case basis. Here goes:

Wireless earbuds: My pair recently broke, so I needed to replace. They no longer have the exact brand I had, so I did sort my price and rating. I bought the least expensive pair with the highest stars. I did not read individual reviews. I will tell you how they fair when they arrive.

1 Qt Saucepan: Being an empty nester has changed the way I cook (expect a blog about this) I find that I need to modify my equipment. To find this pan I filtered for size, price, non stick and dishwasher safe. I did not look at rating or reviews, but I did buy from a company that I have bought cookware from before and liked.

Cheesecloth bags– filtered for small and cheap. No ratings required.

Rubbermaid containers- This was a replacement for old gross ones. Bought what I had before. No ratings

Shoelaces– filtered for length and type. No ratings.

Foam Roller– one of my goals is to increase my flexibility. I know from experience that my daughter’s foam roller was much too hard on my body, so I DID LOOK AT REVIEWS because I knew that I needed something soft, not dense. This is a case of hearing what actual people said was much better than company literature.

So that wraps up how I use reviews.

Where do you stand on reviews?

Disclaimer: I am not receiving anything in exchange for naming any products. I used my own cash for anything I purchased.

Five Star

Do you read reviews?

How religiously do you follow them?

When New York City began to reopen in April, one of the first things to get the go ahead was comedy clubs. I found some inexpensive tickets on a discount ticket website to a comedy club in the village. I asked my daughter if she wanted to go- she responded “Yes” so I bought the tickets.


Except… my daughter began to read reviews of the club and started to freak out. The reviews were terrible… I rationalized that the reviews were obviously a year old. Is it fair to judge something on reviews that are way out of date?

My daughter, ever the persistent arguer, really made a case for eating the cost of the tickets that I’d bought, because it just wasn’t worth it to go. She was completely paralyzed by the bad reviews. She was letting the opinion of others color her thoughts.

Now that everyone with a device and internet access can give a rating to anything they want, have we become a society unwilling to try something unless there’s a four star review attached? Do we let the words of people we don’t know decide what we should and shouldn’t do? Do we really care that much about the opinions of others?

After much back and forth, my daughter and I attended the comedy show. It was neither bad nor good: just average. We did manage to have a really good time though- we were able to talk about the comics we didn’t like and why we didn’t. We managed to make the crowd laugh when the headliner asked if my daughter and I were just friends (he had been asking the crowd how they’d met the people they were there with) because of our body language and I simply said that she was my daughter…I’m guessing my inflection and my daughter’s shoulder shrug made it funny…biggest laugh of the night FYI…

I’m thinking that sometimes, in the case of reviews, that too much information is not necessarily good. I don’t know if we have the proper filters to ascertain which things are helpful and which aren’t…

For your homework: Give me a review about reviews…


Do you write Yelp reviews?

I am not a believer in reviews.

I think that most people who write reviews have an agenda. Maybe it’s their own product. Maybe it’s a product of their best friend. Maybe its a product of their nemesis. Maybe someone is just a troll.

However you look at it, I take reviews with a grain of salt.

I also don’t believe 5 star or 1 star reviews. I think that nothing is so good to rate it perfect. I think that nothing is so bad to rate it 1.


I wrote my first ever Yelp review a few months ago. I had to open an account and everything.

What was the review about?

OK- here’s the story.

I was looking for a groomer so that my puppies nails could get trimmed. She wasn’t ready for a full groom, but I wanted to get her used to having her nails done, and she has black nails, so I didn’t want to try it myself the first time. I wanted a professional.

I have been trying to support small, local businesses this pandemic season, so I searched for groomers in my neighborhood (as opposed to the big name place I used to take my other dog)

I found one close by that said it did drop in nail trims.


Betty and I walked past it one day to check it out, and sure enough there was an “OPEN” sign in the window, as well as a sign that said “WALK IN NAIL TRIMS”. Right there in the window.


Betty and I didn’t go that day- we were just doing our research.

The next week Betty and I returned- this time armed with vaccination requirements and an excitement for a doggie manicure. The same OPEN and NAIL TRIM signs still prominently displayed.

I go to open the OPEN door. Locked.

I see a bell. I ring the bell.

Five minutes later very grumpy person comes out. Rudely yells at me. Screams that they don’t do walk in nail trims. I point to the sign. She slurs something at me.


You think I’m going to leave my dog with you ever?

So I went home and joined Yelp and wrote a review.

One star.

Which I don’t believe in on principle, but the rudeness…

Next day, the owner wrote a nasty reply to me.

I explained why I thought there was a problem and why I wrote the review.

Owner then tried to butter me up. Said all sorts of nice things. Asked me to change my review.

I explained some stuff, and I was not being nasty. I was just calling it as I saw it…

Then the vitriol. The nastiness she spew at me. Telling me about all the dogs and owners that love her and her services. How I was so wrong…

I didn’t reply. I don’t take to being nice to me because you want something. I don’t play to scare tactics.

I do know that I would never leave my dog with this person…

So here’s the thoughts for today:

Do you write reviews?

Do you believe reviews or do you take them with a grain of salt?

Was I justified in reviewing the person as I did?

Do you think I’ll ever write another Yelp review?

Are you annoyed that I used “grain of salt” twice in this post?

So Bad…

I love bad reviews. I don’t mean reviews that are written poorly, I mean reviews where the author really goes crazy about why they don’t like something. Nothing amuses me more than seeing someone skewer something.

What is wrong with me?

OK- here’s the thing. I try to be a positive person, and I know that if someone really hated my work, I would be crushed. So why do I take delight in reading and liking bad reviews?

Because they are more descriptive. Simple as that.

When someone likes something, they tend to say it’s good, or it’s nice, or some other meaningless adjective. Have you ever watched “Food Network Star”? Essentially it’s a reality show where a bunch of people do weekly demos in hopes of landing their own show on FoodNetwork. The mentors (most recently Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentis) have the most trouble with contestants when they are trying to describe the food they are tasting. People always revert back to yummy and tasty. OK- while that means they like it, it doesn’t show why they like it. Those are bland words: I want exciting words. I want words that conjure images, make me feel like I’m tasting the food. Well, it’s the same thing when you are reviewing books or movies. I don’t want to hear that it’s “so good”. I want to here the details.

It’s all in the details my friends.

For some reason, when something is bad, we’re able to describe the badness better. I know I do: the few times I’ve critiqued a book, I’ve had no problem explaining why I hated it, or what didn’t make sense, or whatever. The bad things stick out. Good things don’t often stick out. I can be funny (kind of, sort of) when reviewing something I don’t like- I am much better at articulating the reasons why I don’t like something.

I notice it in my book club too. When we all like a book (which is admittedly rare) the discussion is boring: we all have the same favorite scene, we think the author did most things well, blah blah are you asleep yet blah. But when it’s 50/50, and half hate and half love- well- off we go with the discussion, the argument, the fun of discussing a book. And when we all hate a book? Well, that’s discussion gold!!

So what is it about hating something that makes it so much easier to discuss? Why do people have trouble with describing why we like something? Why do we revert back to “I don’t know why, I just do?”

So, hoping at least half of you did not like this post:



Plot, Characters, Setting Oh My

TJ and I have been tossing on and off about book reviews, how you should do them and what does it mean. Shalini talked about how one bad aspect of a book can really screw you up (actually I don’t remember exactly what she said, but I totally remember my light bulb moment after I read it, so there you go…) Therefore, if you like my blog today, thank me: if you don’t, blame them…

What’s the most important aspect of a book?

Does one aspect of a book matter more?

I’ve been seriously pondering both of these questions lately. What makes a book good or bad? What makes you like a book or hate it? Can you like a bad book?

I know- threw a lot out there at you on a Monday morning. So I’m going to think about these questions from the viewpoint of the book I finished over the weekend, “Star-Crossed” by Minnie Darke. There will be spoilers, but it’s a romantic comedy, so, really.

Predictability: Ok- since I led into this, this book is pretty straightforward in that you know what’s going to happen. You may not know the details along the way, but you know exactly what the arc of this story is going to be- you can almost guess the pages of the climax and the final reveal. Does this make the book bad? Many people critique a book saying it was cliché, and therefore worthy of a lousy review. should a book be dinged because it’s predictable? Well, that depends. In this case no, because of its genre. When I picked up the book I wanted a light, easy, fun read. It’s a romantic comedy: when you decide to read one, you’re pretty much signing on for predicable: do you really want to read a rom com where the two main characters don’t end up together in the end? So yes, predictable, but I expected it. Not dinging this book for that. But another genre of book? I don’t want it to be a pat and scripted journey.

So: how important is predictability? Depends on the genre.

Plot. This kind of goes in hand with predictability. And it also depends on genre. The plot of the book I discussed was straightforward, but again- rom com. It’s supposed to be that way. But, in this case, the little details that filled in the blanks were good: I thought how the author got where she was going was interesting and fun. Our female protagonist is a low level (but rising) employee at a monthly magazine. She has a think for a guy who truly believes in horoscopes, so when she is entering the horoscope copy for layout, she sort of tweaks it so that maybe it will lead him to her. Clever, right? And along the way, we see how she has changed the patterns of other lives because of her false predictions. Even though the story was totally predictable, I enjoyed the ride the author took us on. It was light and easy and fun.

Characters. Do you need to like the characters? This is something I think about often. I know many people will stop reading a book, or ding it badly if they do not like the main character. Is this fair? Again- I think it depends on genre. In the book I’m using as an example, I think you must love, or really like, the two main characters. But other books? I liked “Gone Girl” even though I hated both the main characters. But they intrigued me: sometimes that’s all the hook you need.

Setting/description. How much do you need? How much is important? Ok- I do not like overly descriptive work. When someone gives me a laundry list of the designed names in a closet, and gives me intricate detail of clothing, I am starting to fall asleep. I don’t need to know everything on their kitchen counter, or every objet d’art on their shelves. I want to know the general style, the general upkeep and the colors: that’s what I need to give me a sense of the person. I need the details to be organic. I don’t like laundry lists and I don’t like details that do not matter to the story. But…I know many people who love all those details. I also think that description is a stylistic choice: some genres and stories beg for more description, others need to be sparse. In my rom com of choice, I thought the author gave us just enough so that we got the essence of the characters and where they were in life without burdening us down with minutia.

So if I were to rate “Star-Crossed” I would give it a 3.75. Though I liked all the basic elements, and the plot line was original, some of the hijinks were a little too forced. Some of the main characters traits were a little too cute. But, as far as light, summer rom com it was perfectly fine. I think genre really matters when discussing/reviewing a book: my expectations clearly change dependent upon the type of work I’m looking at. I’m currently reading “Rebecca”: there is no way I would judge it as I judge “Star-Crossed”. First big thought of the week: genre matters, and the guidelines for reviewing/discussing should be different per genre.

I think these are the most important aspects of a book, but I’m going to be playing with all things books and reading this week. If I missed something important today, I’ll more than likely hit on it at some point.


One Star

I had a very interesting conversation with TJ Fox the other day. We were discussing reviews and rating systems and I said I never give a one star review (or five star for that matter), and I usually discount one star reviews as well. TJ asked- “Don’t some things warrant a one star?”

And I got to thinking…

Is there anything so bad that it should be given the lowest star count on a rating system?

What would make a book so bad that it would deserve only a star?

My thought process is that a book would need to lack in all areas. The plot would need to be ridiculous, the characters one dimensional, the dialogue unbelievable, the setting mundane and lifeless. There would be no rhyme or reason to the chapters or structure. it would need to make no sense. And the grammar would need to be completely off the mark. I have yet to meet a book that lacks in all these criteria simultaneously.

When reviewing something, what goes into it? When you tell someone “Don’t read” or “Do Read” or “Must read” on what basis are you setting that? How much of that is personal preference?

I have a really good friend S. Her taste in books is opposite mine. She never enjoys the books I like. Is she wrong? Am I wrong?

No. Because that’s the problem with reviews: you can be biased by what genre or style you like or don’t like.

I recently read Taylor Jenkins Read “Daisy Jones and the Six”. The story unfolds in an interesting way: from the perspective of someone making a documentary of a band. So the story is told in snippets of how interviewees answered questions. I thought it was a brilliant way to tell a story of this sort. I love quirky ways of telling a story. Others don’t. How fair is it to give this book a one star review because you don’t “like” the method? (I saw one star reviews of this book, so this is a legitimate concern)

I don’t like science fiction. Just don’t like the genre. Would it be fair of me to rate a sci fi book one star?

I did not like the TV show “Breaking Bad”. I stopped watching after season two. I also only watched one episode of “Game of Thrones”. Is it fair for me to say DNF (did not finish) or one star because it’s not my taste?

This week I talked about book to movie adaptations: plot changes, characters eliminated or changed, miscastings…. To someone who has read and loved a novel, the adaptation of it just falls short. But what if someone never read the book and just watched? I never read the Inspector Lynley books, but I thought the series on PBS was pretty good. But Jane Fritz thought that it was totally miscast. We would rate it differently because we are viewing it from two different angles. Would it be fair for Jane to give it a one star because it’s not what she wanted to see based on her preconceived ideas?(to be clear, Im using this as an example- I don’t know what she actually would rate the series) Just like me with the Malkovich Poirot: I thought it was HORRIBLE because I am a Poirot purist. But what if I had never picked up a Christie? Would I still think it was horrible?


How does one write an impartial review? How do you divorce personal preference and just look at the bones of a work? What should a review be based on?


Choice A or Choice B

I recently got a letter from author Jessica Knoll.  I also received one from author Curtis Sittenfield.  No, not real, stamped in an envelope real, but rather a generic email sent via Goodreads.

Dear Waking,

Hope you enjoyed my last book.  I just wrote a new one.


Best Selling Author

So, here’s the question: do emails such as this work as a marketing tool?  Upon receiving this email, does one get all aflutter and immediately put the tome on their TBR?  Or does the email go directly to the symbolic trashcan?

Which brings us to the next question: How do we choose the books that we read?

I am a hands on sort of girl.  I love trolling around bookstores- the real brick and mortar ones.  I love to walk the aisles, look at the covers, read the blurbs. The blurbs are very important to me- I can usually get a pretty good idea if it’s a book that would interest me, and if it’s the type of book I’m in the mood for. I peruse the staff favorites, the new and notable, the best sellers.  I find most of my new reads in this decidedly old fashioned method.

Another way I find new books is the newer age Amazon.  I punch in a book that I enjoyed, and I scroll down to the section that shows other books similar in style and/or genre.  And then I go back to the blurb method- I read the paragraph summary.  I also check the star rating- I like to see a solid “4”.  While we’re in this paragraph, let’s chat about the recent headline that Amazon reviews should be further reviewed.  How can one trust a review?  I try to use common sense:  too many 5’s is a red flag that something is a plant.  I almost never give out a 5 star review: there are practically no books that I consider perfect.  I am also wary of too many 1’s.  Really?  The book was that bad?  I look for books that have the majority of their reviews somewhere in the middle.  That seems more reasonable.

So, since many of my blog friends are reviewers, you’re thinking:  Does she read reviews.  Yes.  I do read reviews, BUT I am really careful of the reviewer because I don’t like spoilers.  Basically, I want to know if something was good, bad or indifferent- I don’t want to be told the story- I want the story to unfold naturally.  But, I am an avid reader of reviews AFTER I have read a book.  I love to see what someone thought was important, or interesting, or worthless.  I like reviews because I like the discussion aspect of a book (as evidenced by my participation in two book clubs, and being always open to talking about a book)

My yearly reading goal is 50 books, about a book a week.  But here’s an odd little fact: I have a relatively short TBR.  I think I have about 5 books on my Goodreads TBR, and maybe three or four pages ripped from the NY Times or magazines.  If I like a book enough to jot it down,  I read it fairly quickly.  I get excited when I find a book that interests me, and just want to get on with it.  I know this is a departure from the average avid reader.

So, because it’s Friday, and I am not looking forward the weekend because I have family obligations, I am hoping you all make my weekend better by telling me your methods of choosing books.

Do you read marketing emails?


Recommendations from friends?


Throw a dart?

Also: how long is your TBR?